I love to go white water rafting. Living in Tennessee, it’s not too far of a drive to get to the Ocoee River, one of the better strips of white water in the country. There’s a thrill in the feel of being at the mercy of the river with swift moving water and rocks all around you protected only by your little rubber boat and the knowledge of your river guide. Occasionally people fall overboard in the middle of a rapid and have to float further downstream where the other members of their boat can pull them back in. On one trip however, a friend of mine was met with a bit more excitement. He happened to fall out of the raft in a rapid that had created a vortex near some large rocks. He regaled us with the story afterwards of how he was sucked under the water and couldn’t surface due to the cyclical nature of the vortex. He said, “I was kicking and swimming to get to the surface but the rapid kept cycling me back through over and over. I couldn’t break free. Finally, the rapid released its hold on him and vomited him back to the surface again, coughing and sputtering, but overall, fine.
I often use the concept of getting stuck in a cycle with many of my therapy clients. So many of them seem to be miserable in their life circumstances but feel stuck, as if they can’t escape their struggles. “I just can’t go on like this anymore,” “What am I supposed to do now?” What’s fascinating is that the majority of the people sitting across from me on the couch in my office know what is wrong. They even know what they should do to fix the dilemma that they’re currently in. As their counselor, I often ask the surprising question, “What do you think you should change in order to fix your problem?” Many of them look up, confused, perhaps wondering why the person they’ve come to to get the answers is the one asking them this obvious question. It is then that I ask it again. “What do you think you should change in order to fix your problem?” I can see the cogs in their heads turning as they process this strange concept.
There is a quote commonly heard that it credited to Albert Einstein. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So often, we get caught in a negative cycle, knowing how to escape it, yet being continually pulled back into its grips. Maybe it’s a bad relationship, a bad habit, a string of business failures. We know the very thing that we’re doing wrong, yet we do it again and again, each time meeting with grief and distress that the outcome is the same.
Paul writes in Romans:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:15-20 NIV
Most of us know what is right and what is wrong. We just don’t do it. Life tends to happen and we make poor decisions based more on our own selfish desires rather than on the desires reflecting God’s nature. This cycle of selfishness and “I want” mentality keeps our cycle running strong generation after generation. Paul says that we are incapable of escaping this cycle left to ourselves. In fact, try as we might to do good, we continue to do evil. Only Christ living in us can transform us into the creation that God intends for us to be; a creation that brings glory to Him.